Question of the week

"Don’t ply us with too much jargon"

We asked agencies and marketers what makes a good brief

By Elliot Leavy

New research this week shone a light on some uncomfortable truths both marketers and agencies alike probably already suspected: that briefing isn’t working.

The first ever global study into the shortcomings of marketing briefs, carried out by the BetterBriefs Project in partnership with the IPA, found that the disconnect between what marketers and agencies think about briefing today is staggering, with 80 per cent of marketers believing they write good briefs and only 10 per cent of agencies thinking the same thing.

Tucked within the report is some respite, with both marketers and agencies both agreeing that briefs both are essential (89 versus 86 per cent) and neglected (90 and 92 per cent respectively).

What this amounts to is an estimated whopping 33 per cent of marketing budget going down the drain over bad briefing, with rebriefs facilitating frustration on both sides as time and money is squandered as a result.

In wake of the survey — the largest ever done on the topic and contains the opinions of over 1700 marketeers and agency staff from over 70 countries — Creative Salon asked agencies, intermediaries and marketers what they make of the findings, and ultimately what makes a good brief.

Fiona Gordon, chief executive, Ogilvy UK

"A good brief is a simple one, with ONE compelling problem to solve, that is inspiring and exciting. Clients can tend to put almost too much in the brief - which can lead to a bit of a mind blur where everyone at the agency end tries to work out the real issue. So really prioritising is vital - be ruthlessly focused.

"Don’t use the creative work to figure out what you really want - it’s demoralising and costly. Instead, use conversations up front though with the agency to co-create the brief. Often creatives or the strategist will spot what could be distinct and compelling to your customer.

"We are a creative bunch, which is why the client hired us, to bring them insight and fresh thinking. So try and design a brief for a creative mind, excite us with the problem. Don’t ply us with too much jargon, or we will spend too much time decoding and not enough time exploring all horizons.

"And lastly always share the opportunity or problem and not the answer! If you have a great idea of course share and discuss it but don’t restrict the brief that way."

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, Boots

"A really good brief has insight at its heart and its packed full of rich data around your target market, what makes your brand appeal to them and why what you are due to promote matters in their lives.

"The worst briefs are light on detail and insight and don’t therefore excite the agency!"

Zoe Harris, chief marketing officer, On the Beach

"What makes a good brief?! When asked for 100 words on this, my response was ‘shouldn’t you ask agencies?’.

Apparently that was in hand, and my view was sought anyway. And I reflected it was really hard for me to know what makes a good brief beyond stating the bleeding obvious (clear objective, not too much bumph that loses the main steer and a proper single-minded comms task).

So perhaps more usefully, the fact I don’t really know how good my briefs are, the question is how can agencies and clients have more frank conversations about the quality of the briefs they are working to? In a pitch situation everyone is quick to say how fabulous and exciting the brief is, in a non-pitch situation the comfortable slipper effect probably impacts the input and feedback loop.

One thing I would question is whether 33 per cent of work really is wasted – I always thought the ‘right first time’ metric for presenting creative work underestimated that truly great campaigns can come from going back to the drawing board and taking on board client challenge and questions to do even better work. So perhaps we’re not all so terrible after all."

Martin Beverley, chief strategy officer, adam&eveDDB

"The data certainly shows that there is a Grand Canyon-sized gap between how clients see their briefs and how agencies do. Too often there’s too much jumping to tactics, and too little good old-fashioned strategy.

"Agencies need to help close the gap by having honest conversations about how to make briefs better. The best agencies argue about the strategy because it leads to more effective work. As William Wrigley once said ‘if two men [people] in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary’. So, if you’re not calling out the problems with briefs, perhaps you are part of the problem."

Angus Crowther, founding partner, Alchemists

At Alchemists we are spending more time on proper client briefings than ever before.

This is probably due to the increased workload in the pandemic and also the increase in briefing of in-house agencies or studios.

We call it the ‘shoulder tap’ or ‘can you just’ which often does not even involve a brief but perhaps an email or even worse a conversation.

Shit in and shit out.

In a world where the need to differentiate is even more paramount, senior clients are realising that not enough time is being set aside to really think about each brief and the subsequent creative output.

This is not helped by the client approval process which can further dilute any creativity.

Recently we launched a huge briefing programme for one of the world’s largest airlines who are looking to differentiate as they get going again – and they know they have to be different to persuade people to fly with them vs the massive competition stacked against them.

They are taking it so seriously that we are helping them launch an awards event which will recognise the best briefs along with the best work. And we included all the other departments that have a link to Marketing because if they are not onboard, then they won’t understand the need for a really concise brief.

We know we need an awards event because too often clients are sent on a brief writing course only to then revert to the old behaviours – so knowing that we will be checking up on progress in 6-12 months’ time is crucial. But rewarding them is a much better incentive.

A good brief is single minded and obviously written on one page. It has a clear insight. It has a clear single minded proposition. It defines the audience in crystal detail and is not vague or generic. It differentiates between a business and marketing objective.

And crucially it takes a long time to craft.

“I am sorry I did not have time to write you a short letter so I wrote you a long one…” - Winston Churchill

Victoria Fox, chief executive, AAR

"At AAR, we agree with the research findings and do see a disconnect between brands and agencies in the brief writing process. This is why we developed out own training on how to write great briefs, with lessons like our 'ten warning signs for bad briefs' to help alleviate the friction;

  • They start with the task, not the problem the brief is trying to solve 

  • They have ill-defined objectives and measures

  • They don’t connect to the broader strategy

  • They are full of facts not insights

  • They have contradictions which need resolving

  • They are a cut and paste dumping ground of words not intent, not reflecting strategic choices 

  • They are rushed, and seen as form-filling, not the basis for great work that will drive change

  • They don’t inform, instruct or inspire

  • They don’t have compelling customer insight at the heart

  • They haven’t been agreed by all stakeholders, so they aren’t a solid foundation"


LinkedIn iconx

Your Privacy

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. Please let us know if you agree to all of these cookies.